From the Farm: We’ve come a long way

Steve and I were chatting about a lot of things the other day.

We talked about how we are going to stand firm that Joe needs to find an off-farm job for a time, before he comes home to milk cows.

Anybody want to hire him? He’s so nervous about it!

We chatted about Russell and where we assume he will be years from now. But mostly we talked about how far we have come since we started milking cows as a couple more than 20-years ago. Sometimes I miss those days.

The one item that really makes a person step back in awe in our latest and most interesting step in our farm management.

Well, it is to me.

Several weeks ago we took hair samples from our cows. I felt kind of bad for the cows. Hair sampling involves pulling hair out of the tail and making sure we had the little bulb on the end of the hair.

Poor cows.

We sent those samples away to a laboratory and several weeks later, they sent back a report on the cows’ DNA.

In a way, I find it amazing, but yet in another way I find it old news.

You see, we can now choose bulls to breed the cows with that will improve on certain traits.

For instance, if a cow has a chromosome that tells us her teat placement is pathetic, we can use a specific bull to improve the teat placement on her bull. Yes, we have done this for years, but not with an actual DNA report to reference.

So because 420 only produces milk in three of her four quarters, we can improve her family line and use a bull to correct that lagging trait in her offspring.

For years I have been telling anyone that would listen to me, OK mostly Steve, that when a cow comes into the milking parlor and, in my opinion, she’s a dud, we should send her down the road.

Even if a cow has an attitude as strong as Super Glue, I would complain and try to get her to take a nice long ride. “Apples don’t fall far from the tree” is an absolutely true statement. I have dealt with it personally. (I’m still talking about cows here, not family.)

There have been cows that are a total pain to milk. Their daughters will also be total chaos in the milking parlor.

“Why do we want to keep those genetics in the herd?” I would ask Steve.

“Because we need cow numbers,” Steve would respond. (I could do another entire column on the pros and cons of selling jumpy cows.)

“Well she could have a heifer calf; then that calf would have a heifer calf; and before you know it, we have an entire herd of jerks.”

So you see, I was thinking about improving the genetics in our herd, a long time ago.

It didn’t involve actual genetic information; just sending rogue cows down the road.

It’s quite interesting to look at the genetic information of cows.

Again, my source is still outside looking at the pump on diesel barrel, so I will give this my best shot. If I am incorrect in my understanding, I am quite sure I will hear about it from someone.

Our plan is get our best cow to super ovulate. We then use our chosen bull to inseminate her with the mighty swimmers that will find one of many eggs to start the magic. At some point, I am not sure of the time line yet, we will harvest the embryos and then transfer those into cows and heifers that we have prepared for a pregnancy.

If only it were that simple. I know I have dramatically simplified the process.

Having the genetic information is just another tool dairy producers use to manage their herds. We will be improving the genetics in our herd, which allows us to produce more milk and feed the growing populations of this world.

We’ve come a long way in 20-plus years.

For questions, or comments, e-mail me at

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